Monarchs goalie Sam Brittain makes the save from Stingrays Steven McParland in the first period at the North Charleston Coliseum on Saturday. (Michael Pronzato/ The Post and Courier/ Staff)
Kelly Cup Playoffs
Eastern Conference Finals (Best-of-seven; x-if necessary) Manchester 2, South Carolina 0
Friday: Manchester 2, South Carolina 1 Saturday: Manchester 4, S.C. 3 Monday: Manchester at S.C., 7:05 p.m. Fri., May 19: S.C. at Manchester, 7 p.m. x-Sat., May 20: S.C. at Manchester, 6 p.m. x-Mon., May 22: S.C. at Manchester, 7 p.m. x-Wed., May 24: S.C. at Manchester, 7 p.m.
It makes no difference to the Monarchs where they’re playing in the postseason. Whether it’s in Glens Falls, N.Y., Brampton, Ontario, or North Charleston, S.C., the Monarchs keep winning and are six victories away from a Kelly Cup championship.
“Playoff hockey is always a challenge, but the schedule has not caught us by surprise,” said head coach Richard Seeley. “Our club battles and competes in each game. We definitely have a resilient group of players on our team.”
Manchester took a 2-0 ECHL Eastern Conference Finals lead in the best-of-seven series with a 4-3 victory Saturday against the Stingrays in North Charleston, S.C.
Game 3 is tonight at 7:05 p.m. in North Charleston before Manchester returns home Friday for Game 4 at the SNHU Arena. If needed, Game 5 (Saturday, 6 p.m.), Game 6 (Monday, May 22 at 7 p.m.) and Game 7 (Wednesday, May 24, 7 p.m.) would all be played at SNHU Arena.
“There’s no doubt going up 2-0 is a positive thing, but we know there’s a long way to go,” said Seeley. “South Carolina has a very good hockey team and they’re tough to beat in their own building with their crowd supporting them.”
Still Manchester has not blinked on the road in the postseason. In the opening round against Adirondack, the Monarchs won the first two games at home before winning Games 4 and 6 on the road for a 4-2 series win. In the North Division finals, Manchester won Games 2 and 6 in Brampton for a 4-2 series win.
This past weekend, Manchester captured the first two games at North Charleston Coliseum, where the Stingrays owned a 6-0 postseason record and allowed just four goals after the first two rounds.
In their 2-1 Game 1 win Friday, Manchester was led by Kevin Morris and Alexx Privitera (power-play goal), who in a span of two minutes in the second period.
“The first game was more like a feeling-out process for both teams,” said Seeley as the Monarchs held the Stingrays to 22 shots, including six in each of the second and third periods.
On Saturday, Manchester goalie Sam Brittain continued his stellar play with 44 saves. In the opening period Manchester led 2-0 despite getting outshot, 16-5.
Zac Lynch scored his sixth playoff goal at 7:35 against goalie Parker Milner, who entered the series with three playoff shutouts. Four minutes later, Quentin Shore scored his fifth goal and the Manchester lead went to 3-0 when Craig Wyszomirski tallied midway through the second stanza.
Manchester has seven power-play chances and cashed in one at 1:06 of the third period when Morris rammed home his fifth playoff goal for a 4-1 lead.
South Carolina closed the gap to 4-3, but couldn’t score in the final 1:36 after pulling its goalie.
“In the second game we got outplayed in the first period, but we were able to execute on the few opportunities we created for ourselves,” said Seeley. “South Carolina plays physical like Adirondack, and much like Brampton, they can beat you in transition,” said Seeley. But Manchester’s defense, led by Brittain, has been solid during a 10-4 stretch in the playoffs.
“Our defense has not given up many second chances and Sam has been dialed in throughout the playoffs,” said Seeley. In 14 games, Brittain owns a 2.07 GAA and owns the most wins (10) in the playoffs so far.
On offense, Matt Leitner is third in playoff scoring overall with six goals and 10 assists. Shore is tied for sixth with five goals and nine assists (14 points). Leitner, Lynch and Ashton Rome each has a team-high six playoff goals for Manchester.
Since the Los Angeles Kings and Ontario Reign are done for the season, Seeley said it’s unlikely his roster will change for the remainder of the playoff run.
“Everything should remain intact for us, which is good news,” said Seeley. “One thing we have right now is depth.”
The Monarchs have a chance to put South Carolina’s back to the wall with a win tonight. The Stingrays will likely be in desperation mode, not wanting to go down 0-3 with the last four games in Manchester.
“We’re going to approach this game the same way we have throughout the playoffs,” said Seeley. “Like I said, despite being up in the series, we still have a long way to go.”